The relationship between San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer reached a boiling point Monday with Schottenheimer being the one to get burned.
San Diego president Dean Spanos fired Schottenheimer, saying that the inner workings of the Chargers organization had become "dysfunctional." In January, after the AFC top-seed Chargers were beaten in their opening playoff game by New England, Spanos publicly expressed his support for Schottenheimer. Smith had advised Spanos to fire the 20-year veteran coach.
The root of the change came after Smith advised Schottenheimer on Monday to consider hiring Ted Cottrell to be the next defensive coordinator, according to a source close to the situation. Smith has a high opinion of Cottrell from their days in Buffalo and believed that Cottrell would provide continuity after the loss of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who became head coach in Dallas.
Cottrell, who is currently working for the NFL, was the defensive coordinator under Phillips when Phillips was the head coach of the Bills and is extremely familiar with the 3-4 defensive system San Diego runs.
Schottenheimer rebuffed Smith's suggestion and instead planned to talk to Vic Fangio this week. Chargers linebackers coach John Pagano received strong consideration and there was speculation that Schottenheimer wanted to hire his brother Kurt, who is the secondary coach with Kansas City. However, both Spanos and Smith had told Schottenheimer that they did not want him to hire his brother.
In addition to losing Phillips, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron left to take the head coaching job in Miami and assistants Greg Manusky (San Francisco) and Rob Chudzinski (Cleveland) departed to become coordinators. The disruption and continuing problems between Smith and Schottenheimer, led to a difficult decision for Spanos.
"Events of the last month have now convinced me that it is not possible for our organization to function at a championship level under the current structure. On the contrary, and in the plainest possible language, we have a dysfunctional situation here. Today, I am resolving that situation once and for all," said Spanos, who a year ago told both Smith and Schottenheimer to put their personal issues aside.
"Our fans deserve to know what changed for me over the last month. When I decided to move ahead with Marty Schottenheimer in mid-January, I did so with the expectation that the core of his fine coaching staff would remain intact. Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case, and the process of dealing with these coaching changes convinced me that we simply could not move forward with such dysfunction between our head coach and general manager."
Spanos said Schottenheimer, who turned down a contract extension last month, will be paid for the final year of his contract. Schottenheimer has a career record of 200-126-1 in the regular season, but was only 5-14 in the playoffs and had never made it to the Super Bowl.
Who will succeed Schottenheimer? Cottrell could be on a short list and new offensive coordinator Clarence Shelmon is highly regarded by many in the organization.
One wild card in the process could be former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, who is close with Spanos. Johnson, currently an NFL analysts, has said that he doesn't want to return to coaching, but might be tempted by the extremely talented Chargers roster.
San Diego had 11 players selected to the Pro Bowl this season, including NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive tackle Jamal Williams. That kind of roster would appeal to Johnson, who tired of building a team during his second run as a head coach in Miami.